Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: American Anthropological Association: Comments on the Referendum to Rescind The El Dorado Task Force Report
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Professor Votes Against Referendum

I loved the way my University of Denver students handled the Referendum debate (see Question A), it was a pleasure to moderate, and I have great respect for the jury’s majority opinion in favor of the Referendum. But my own conscience directs me to vote against the Referendum. This is based, in part, on the kind of pragmatist philosophical commitment that Borofsky, in his recent book about the controversy, champions as “another way” to engage the profession’s ethical issues. These commitments include judging truth-claims on the basis of their social effects in the world, enlarging the public conversation about compelling human problems, and recognizing the important role that novelists and journalists (even bad ones) can play in building world community and in expanding the scope of who counts as a member.

But mostly my “against” vote is based on a deep concern about three trivializations evident in the published and posted commentaries by referendum advocates. These include (1) trivialization of anthropological ethics, evident in arguments that any ethical breach less than genocide is equivalent to a “parking violation” (as well as in appeals to the biblical principle “let s/he who is without sin cast the first stone”); (2) trivialization of anthropological representation, evident in suggestions that the Yanomami would have been demonized by politicians and the press regardless of the “fierce people” appellation, and that the alternative concept of “noble savage” has never saved tribal folk from exploitation anyway; and (3) trivialization of advocacy anthropology, evident in claims that it suffers from a lack of “objectivity” and other legitimate intellectual content, and that its champions in this matter are motivated by some perverse combination of political correctness, postmodern self-loathing, sociobiology-phobia, and personal jealousy of colleagues who’ve made more money than they have.

These trivializations don’t help a discipline always at risk of marginalization in intellectual and public life. Echoing the DU student debate minority position, there’s more to be gained by rejecting the Referendum (and the epistemology that informs it) and moving forward. It’s not clear that meaningful follow-up on the important ethical issues at stake will happen if the Task Force report is rescinded, especially given the AAA’s chequered history of ethics interventions (and none of the DU student debate participants are particularly impressed by this history). It’s worth taking a chance that the report will move us into a different, and better, ethical space.

Dean Saitta
University of Denver

Let Us Not Discredit Ourselves Further

Joe Watkins acknowledges that "perhaps the [El Dorado] process was flawed ...”. Others made similar admissions, but persist in defending the Report. This is equivalent to saying "a flawed investigation is better than no investigation." This position is based on the assumption that the gravity of the alleged misdeeds and the need to “cleanse ourselves” override the need for fairness and due process. The risk, we are told, is that U.S. anthropology will be discredited internationally.

We don’t question the integrity of the Task Force. We accept Jane Hill’s statement that the Task Force “completed to the best of its ability the task assigned to it by the Executive Board.” The problem was the Board’s equivocal charge to the Task Force and the lack of ethical and legal supervision of their work. Watkins and others forget that ad hominem investigations have consequences for the targets and also for our professional association. Adjudications conducted without due process damage us all and erode academic freedom. When it comes to ethics investigations, "pretty good," is not good enough. “Flawed” is even worse.

The Report of the so-called “inquiry” asserts but does not fairly demonstrate culpability. The Task Force, to which Watkins and Hill belonged, found Chagnon and Neel guilty without the right of defense, without properly weighing evidence, and without fairly sampling Yanomami opinions. Task Force members had conflicts of interest and displayed bias. The Report was duplicitous, disguising an adjudication as an “inquiry conducted in reflective space.” The Report did little more than muddy the waters and unfairly condemn the targets of the investigation.

We are affirming, not denying, the importance of ethics. There is no censorship or constraint on ethical debate in our resolution. We don’t deny the gravity of the charges or the importance of revealing the truth. Anthropologists are free to debate the culpability of Chagnon and Neel. Our resolution rescinds official acceptance of the report because AAA rules prohibit investigations. If approved, the Association may keep the Report on its website, but only as an opinion piece.

If the El Dorado Task Force is allowed to set a precedent, other disputes can generate new investigations where the Association’s machinery and resources are used to attack others whose work is unpopular or controversial. The AAA Commission on Ethics stated that we are incapable of conducting “a fair and legally defensible adjudication.” We don’t have the capacity to act as a court of law and therefore should not play courtroom games. Let us not discredit ourselves further. Vote to rescind acceptance of the El Dorado Report.

Daniel Gross
Independent Consultant

The Task Force Report is an Historical Document That Members Should Not Rescind

The El Dorado Task Force Report is not a legal document. It is the result of an inquiry of a committee appointed by the AAA to gather information about a serious ethical matter. The authors of the report are clearly identifiable, as Janet Chernela indicates in her comments. Anyone who wishes to interrogate the authors credentials/biases is free to do so; similarly anyone who wishes to dispute the findings reported may also do so.

The report is an historical document that the AAA membership should NOT recind. It should be, as it was intended, an attempt to shed light on the accusations reported in Tierney's book. The Report does not preclude other scholars from presenting other information on the accusations, either pro or con.

The Report is part of a debate that will surely continue for some time. It is unfortunate that it has stimulated such acrimony. The discussion the Report has stimulated should be productive. Recinding the Report does not advance AAA membership toward positive future discussion of the events discussed in the Report, nor the Report itself.

Laura Graham
University of Iowa


I took my time to answer this questions because I am a Spanish teacher at Houston, although my goal is to become an Anthropology teacher, and after I read all the specialists' comments I felt mine would be unuseless. Even though, I did discuss about the questions with my students as you recommended. The majority of them are Central and South Americans. But their answers were almost the same: "What do the Yanomani people think about it?". They are teenagers and to them it sounded like if we were playing to be God, disregarding others feelings. But the comment that I thought was the most important came from a Colombian student. He said the anthropologists should learn about other cultures giving the people from the same country a chance. Working with them, dealing with them, not imposing the foreigners' rules.

If we expect some other cultures to fulfill our rules, like the Force asserted, "Did Neel have informed consent from the Yanomami when he conducted his research?", then we need to explain to them other concepts not existing in their culture. For example, what are vaccines, shots and specially the process and procedures to do a research. Of course, anthropologists should follow any kind of code, but if we teach them how things are done here, are keeping and protecting their own culture or are we imposing our?. El Dorado report is, in my humble opinion, unfair with those who were trying to help Yanomami and trying to preserve their lives and therefore their live style.

Diana Gumiel

Why I Will Vote 'No.'

What is this referendum really about?

Its proponents represent themselves as concerned only with matters of procedure, due process, and fairness, not about the substance of the findings of the Task Force that Chagnon, Neel and sundry others violated ethical standards. Yet these are the same people who have sought throught the controversy to deny all, or almost all, of the allegations of unethical conduct against them. They have now found a way to dismiss the Task Force and its findings without facing the substance of the allegations against Neel and Chagnon. The passage of the referendum they propose, of course, would have the effect of discrediting and dismissing the substantive conclusions of the Task Force (that Neel and Chagnon behaved unethically in various respects). The effect would be to overturn the findings of unethical conduct and to confer retroactive impunity on those whose cause they have championed – at least until another Task Force or other committee could be appointed to reexamine all the evidence and reach new conclusions.

The proponents of the referendum suggest they would favor, or at least be open to this alternative, but who can believe that such an inquiry would ever be undertaken in the wake of the repudiation of the first Task Force? And who believes that the same defenders of Chagnon and Neel would not be out there again fighting tooth and nail against the new inquiry as a violation of the ‘supposed’ AAA policy against “ethics adjudications?”

The referendum is designed to neutralize the substantive findings of unethical conduct against Chagnon and Neel, and to make it all but impossible for any subsequent investigation of the allegations against them to be undertaken by the AAA. Vote no!

Jane Fajans
Cornell University

The Process Was Unfair

I agree with Gregor and Gross (AA:686-97, 2004) that this was an investigation, not merely an inquiry. The interests of Chagnon, the target, were never represented. There was no serious attempt to evaluate the validity of the "witnesses'" statements--no investigatation of their knowledge, biases, or self-interests. The depth of the inquiry is questionable, since the only person with great knowledge of Yanomomo language and culture, Ray Hames, had the good grace to resign because of possible conflict of interests. The entire procedure was questionable. I urge all members of the AAA to read Gregor and Gross carefully, especially the section on "Objectivity and Evidence," pp. 692-605. It convinced me that the report should be rescinded, and that no future inquiries be undertaken without seeking counsel on collecting and evaluating evidence. We need legally and morally defensible guidelines for investigations ("inquiries") into ethical misconduct. I hope that we can put the report, and the shoddy book that occasioned it, behind us.

Alice Schlegel
University of Arizona

Vote No!

Sanctioned by pure scientific reason and possessed of righteous indignation, the socio-biological and fellow-traveling, self-avowed defenders of objectivity, truth, and due process relentlessly continue their holy crusade to save anthropology from hypocrisy, political correctness, and post-modern, “humanistic” thinking. (Interesting that “humanism” is also a favorite whipping-boy of some post-structuralist polemics.) In this regard, they must have taken a cue from the notorious swift-boat cabal and the campaign of raving conservative critics of Dan Rather – co-opt the values and institutions of liberal discussion and a free press in order to divert attention from more crucial concerns (or, as the saying goes, “the best defense is a good offense”).

Of course, in our case the institution most immediately at risk is the American Anthropological Association – an institution ill-equipped, perhaps, to defend itself against a highly motivated and well organized attack. (Why would it constitute itself with such possibilities in mind?) But, one might wonder, where was "due process" when the interests of the Yanomami were at stake?

Alas, historical memory of the Vietnam War seems to have been captured by revisionist, right-wing zealots, many of the most influential of whom managed not to be there. Will the association similarly be bullied by transparent conceits designed to silence any possibility that it should ever constitute a public voice in defense of indigenous and human rights? VOTE NO!

Steve Sangren
Cornell University

To the Best of Our Ability

The El Dorado Task Force completed to the best of its ability the task assigned to it by the Executive Board. I, as chair, stand by the report and urge people to read it all the way through.

Jane Hill, Past AAA President/Former El Dorado Task Force Chair
University of Arizona

This Referendum is Dead on Arrival!

Each "whereas" clause in this Referendum is an accusation and fatally compromised by omissions of information and inclusions of misinformation.

The Task Force was never intended to carry out any kind of adjudication and it never did. "Due process" in any legal sense is therefore irrelevant. Chagnon refused the AAA invitations to participate in the panel on the controversy at the 2000 convention and to communicate with the TF to confront Tierney's allegations. That Chagnon was not personally represented was his own decision. Tierney accepted the invitation for the panel and participated.

The only genuine conflict of interest in the TF was the late addition of Raymond Hames under pressure from the advocates for Chagnon. This was removed when Hames resigned. That Hames now supports the Referendum after coauthoring much of the report is itself a conflict of sorts.

The assertion by Thomas Gregor and associates that the other organizations they cite found no merit in the allegations they investigated is misleading. It ignores the fact that early in the controversy those organizations conducted hasty investigations on a very narrow range of allegations almost all concerned with Neel instead of Chagnon. Furthermore, these organizations have never considered subsequent findings like the Final Report and revised their statements accordingly, although glaring discrepancies exist.

Gregor and associates accuse the TF of being political and imply that this automatically renders the entire process and report invalid. If that proposition were true, then the 2004 AA article by Gregor and Daniel Gross, the Referendum itself, research by Neel and Chagnon, and investigations by the organizations Gregor and associates cite would all be invalid.

Gregor and associates accuse the Association of condoning a "culture of accusation" yet every one of the ten "whereas" clauses and most other points in their Referendum as well as much of the AA article involve accusations.

The fact that the Yanomami have faced far greater dangers than anthropologists does not preclude the possibility that some anthropologists have harmed them too. This controversy and the related actions of the AAA administration have never prevented other initiatives to help Yanomami.

Approval of the Referendum would likely damage the public and self images of the AAA and profession; weaken the Code of Ethics and future work of the Committee on Ethics; distract attention from Yanomami; and alienate communities with whom anthropologists conduct research.

For a much expanded version of these comments, please see the AAA web site.

Leslie Sponsel
University of Hawai`i

Due Process the Basic Requirement

Investigation and resolutionof these kinds of matters in the end require due process and natural justice. I was in a Department where issues arose and allegations were made that caused the university to institute a whole series of unsatisfactory investigations and reports, none of which met the standards of due process and natural justice. In the end the Department faced an inquiry at the highest level led by a high court judge, also the Chancellor of the university,and two members of its governing body, the council. They brought down a report that adjudicated on the issues and allegations and made recommendations for the University and its administration were to follow. They, in due course, when implemented,resolved the issues, dismissed the unfounded allegations, and we now enjoy a very healthy department of anthropology where these matters have long since faded into the past.. There is no other way, and the AAA will also have, in the end to follow such a path, which meets that standard of resolution, as elseways resolution is not to be found in task force reports which even a few of its members acknowledge to be defective, and many of the rest of us also agree, including many of our discipline's foremost standard bearers (see the competing commentaries as evidence).

Roger Green
University of Auckland

In the River of My Life . . .

A faculty member who is near and dear to my heart used to say, usually after a faculty meeting, "In the river of my life, the barge of garbage goes on and on and on."

When I began my doctoral education it was 1984. For most of the years from then to the present, I have called myself a critical medical anthropologist -- basically a Neo-Marxist ala Marcuse and Habermas. I have conducted critical analyses myself. While there are some wonderful serious researchers who use critical theory in the design of their research and in the analyses of their findings, there are others who have made their careers by character assassination. This assassination is accomplished by judging colleagues, most often colleagues of previous generations not on the quality of their work but on the political correctness popular today. Most often the criticism is made by critical (cultural) anthropologists against those who incorporate biology and adaptation into the explanation of cultural behavior. Chagnon, is just one in a long line of anthropologists who has been judged by others who have made a name for themselves by attacking character primarily using accusations of racism. So, I am for the referendum to rescind the AAA's acceptance of the task forces report. I think. The number of positive and negative twists and turns is confusing. But more importantly, I am for the AAA members and non-members who practice anthropology and criticism, to adopt standards of judging individuals in their own historical context, of criticing quality of work and not imputing motives to individuals. I am for choosing the leaders for the AAA based upon their leadership ability rather than their politics and ability to attack the grandmothers and grandfathers of our field against the political standards of a later time. This one's for you Alice. In short I agree with Jeffry Ehrenreich.

Eileen Jackson

The Well-Being of Two Communities at Stake

I will vote against the referendum. The agency of both indigenous communities and the communities of professional anthropology are at stake.

A flawed report is one thing, the principle of continual ethical self-reflection is another. I have to say I was appauled, as a Canadian anthropologist, witnessing the AAA Annual meeting's first major scrum on the issue in San Fransisco. The mob sensibility to condemn was tantamount to the US public's fast galvanizing around Bush's anti-terrorist evangelism post 9/11. That said, and while claims have been leveled at the report as a "witch hunt", accepting a report is not necessarily accepting it as correct. Nor does it have to be accepted as a closing statement. Instead, it opens the issues for us all, giving grist for further self-reflection, adjustment, realignment. Let's accept it, formalize it as a public document, and critique it as needed. Let's take this as one iteration and get on with the business of new iterations ensuring we do the right thing for the futures of those to whom we have accepted ethical commitments. And let's keep properly rethinking and reworking the way our discipline, our professional actions, and our association proceeds in troubling, unfolding times.

Brian Noble
Dalhousie University

What Next?

As one who has recently returned to anthropology, and has only just learned about this debate it seems that there are two main questions: a) was the Task Force set up in a way which was appropriate?; and b) did it do a fair job in describing ethical dilemmas posed by the work of the Chagnon team?

From reading the comments and materials it would seem to me that in the case of a) the answer is no. The answer to b) is partly dependent on a)and the results of any inquiry can be tainted if the process is flawed. Hence I would have thought it in the interests of all, including supporters of Chagnon and the report, to have a second look at this case.

Perhaps, as in many instances, wording is important here. Does the AAA have to actually "reject" the report to reopen the investigation? There must be suitable legal terminology here that would allow revisiting the material without damning those involved in the original Task Force. What is in question is how anthropologists go about monitoring the ethical issues in our work. In this instance the AAA is to be congratulated in tackling what is a long standing and difficult question.

The major question relates to next steps - what will be put in place as due process if the current process is seen to be flawed, so we can all have improved guidance and support in undertaking work in an ethical manner.

Eluned Schweitzer
Columbia (only part time)

Then Change the Task Force (Against)

I am against the referendum to rescind the El Dorado Task Force Report. I was somewhat persuaded by arguments colleagues have made about 1) anthropologists back-biting tendencies and 2) possible flaws in the report 3) possible biases and politics among Task Force members. However, I am also in favor of having a Task Force elected by AAA that takes journalism's role in checks and balances seriously. Without having any association with Task Force members, I feel they did the difficult, public, representational work of addressing Tierney's published concerns. Rather than rescinding the report, I suggest efforts of those in favor of the referendum to do the following: 1. Run for office on the task force 2. Publish (as is being done) accounts that give more depth and contextual understanding of the anthropologist's actions.

I think the report should/will stand as it is and what may be needed are supplementary materials that further investigate anthropological ethnics and behavior, then and now. I think rescinding the report would not vinidcate the researchers but attempts to silence self-critique. If you believe the Task Force did a poor investigative job and was politically biased, then let's have new candidates run for the job. Should new task force members be elected, let the report stand and debates on ethnics continue.

Melisa Cahnmann
University of Georgia

Indigenous Health and the El Dorado Report

I would like to encourage members of the AAA to support the referendum to rescind the Association’s acceptance of the El Dorado Report. The most serious problem with the Report was its failure to consider the real needs of the Yanomamo. In response to Tierney’s book the Association should have immediately produced a verifiable report on indigenous health; not a document that gave serious attention to the pronouncements of a biased journalist. The Association claims that “The key finding of the Task Force that dwarfs all others relates to the devastating health conditions of the Yanomamo Indians,” but there is almost no examination of health in the Report at all, nor is there consideration of the crucial testimony of Venezuelan biomedical scientists who were spitefully attacked by Tierney. In collaboration with colleagues I have written a report for the AAA's Commission on the Current Status of Indigenous Peoples of South America that systematically examines the health issues that were ignored. But after the distraction of the El Dorado investigation it will never have the policy impact that it needs to assist indigenous peoples. My point is that the Association’s efforts should have been on behalf of the Yanomamo and other indigenous peoples of South America. Rescinding the report is an essential step towards reclaiming our own sense of purpose and directing our efforts towards the assistance of indigenous communities.

A Magdalena Hurtado
University of New Mexico

I Support the Referendum

It saddens me to see respected colleagues on opposite sides of such an acrimonious debate. Yet the issues are important and must be addressed. Prior to the publication of Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado it was clear there were some people in Brazil, Venezuela, and the United States who were critical of Napoleon Chagnon’s research, either for theoretical, ethical, or personal reasons. I thought some of this might be motivated by professional jealousy as Chagnon had made a splash with his Yanomami monographs. I found the charge he had harmed the Yanomami by describing them as “fierce” unconvincing. The forces of development threatening lowland South American peoples are not driven by anthropological characterizations.

The campaign against Chagnon was taken to a new level by Tierney’s book and also by Turner and Sponsel’s e-mailed “warning” of an impending crisis to AAA president Louise Lamphere. This was a private e-mail, but it was soon leaked. It attacked James Neel and Chagnon with inflammatory language and strongly suggested they might be guilty of initiating a deadly measles epidemic among the Yanomami. The controversy gained momentum and eventually led to the constitution of the AAA’s El Dorado Task Force.

I assume all anthropologists are in favor of integrity and high standards of professional ethics. But people differ in their interpretations of the facts. It is clear the most serious charges against the late Neel and Chagnon – the introduction of a measles epidemic and the denial of medical care to dying Yanomami – have now been refuted by multiple professional investigations into the evidence. The facts show their vaccination program saved many Yanomami lives in the face of an ongoing and spreading epidemic. I do not dismiss the remaining criticisms of Chagnon and Neel out of hand, but they pale in comparison to the charge of wanton disregard for Yanomami lives.

Thomas Gregor and Daniel Gross are correct in asserting that the Task Force Report lacked the important element of due process. The members of the Task Force worked diligently and were guided by good intentions, but they were given the impossible task of producing a fair inquiry on research that was conducted over 30 years ago without hearing testimony from the accused researchers. I thank the members of the Task Force for their service. But I will vote for the referendum to rescind the AAA’s acceptance of the Task Force Report.

William Vickers
Florida International University

Thumbs Up for Gregor and Gross

My vote for the referendum is not a vote for fieldwork unrestrained by the evolving ethical guidelines of the American Anthropological Association. On the contrary, passage of this referendum should effectively revitalize ethical concerns by joining them to procedures of inquiry that are clean and above board. In supporting this referendum, I repudiate Star Chambers, witchfinding movements, and “the ends justify the means” rationale for the violation of the most basic canons of due process. I am embarrassed that the AAA has besmirched its reputation by accepting the report of the Task Force. Passage of the referendum will help to repair the damage.

Jack Glazier
Oberlin College

The "Task Force Report" Must Be Disavowed

The real issue here is power. The schism has occurred, the two popes are grappling for mutual excommunication, and the faction momentarily ascendant is attempting to eliminate its rivals. We would be as embarrased by as incredulous about these Byzantine machinations had we not already succumbed to them.

It is clear to all that the "scientist" and "humanist" factions within anthropology are engaged in a conflict of worldviews, but it has been less clear--until now--that while the scientists are generally willing to live and let live, the "humanists" (irony intended) are out for victory, at any cost.

The methods they have thus far used are familiar enough to any student of single-party governments: takeover and politicization of the central press, appointment of associates to committees of inquiry, disinformation and malicious innuendo directed against prominent opponents, and eventual declaration that the doctrines of the politbureau are the offical views of all. This Referendum disavowing the "humanist" officialization of Tierney's slander and bad research is the first rumble of rebellion.

Soon after its publication, Tierney's central "revelations"--e.g. that Chagnon and Neel were responsible for infecting the Yanomami with measles--were shown to be biologically impossible. The book was therefore a great embarrasment to the Harvard University Press; why the AAA should have then entangled itself also in this morass is beyond comprehension--but for the fact that, as usual, the "humanists" thought they were doing something for humanity. But they weren't. BS is BS, and pious embracement does not make it otherwise.

I personally hope anthropology will grow out of this schismaticism and try again to do comprehensive, multifaceted, and interesting work. But maybe it won't. Maybe it will just cease to exist, becoming instead factional adjuncts to the departments of biology and of literary criticism. If it does, I'll end up in the biology department; but that's too bad--I really like literature too.

Fellow members: let us act to put this entire misfortune behind us. Let us repudiate the official endorsement of the Task Force and its "findings," and let us start over as civil people, aware of our disagreements, and accepting of our non-infallibility.

Enough drama, enough sniping, enough rancor. This is not reality TV, this is Anthropology.

I endorse the Referendum.

Paul Mattson
Moorpark College

Support Institutional Autonomy & Academic Due Process

I signed the Referendum to Rescind petition forthe following reasons:

1. I do not believe that a "task force" was the proper response to this issue, nor that the ethical issues involved are unique to this case. shine an equally bright spotlight elsewhere, and I think many skeletons might emerge. I would compare the AAA "task force" as a response to Tierney's work to the recent involvement of the US Congress in the life support removal issue surrounding Mrs. Schiavo. It was inappropriate.

2. While extra-disciplinary accountability - and this is what anthropologist's usually mean when they discuss ethics, especially those comfortably tenured - is good, the same holds for disciplinary autonomy. Academics in general need to work equally hard a) to avoid harming their publics and b) to be independent of those same publics, and this includes the people we study as well as those who fund our work and those who share citizenship with us. The surrender of intellectual freedom is not ethical.

3. I am no fan of Chagnon, nor of sociobiology generally. Quite the opposite. But I assume my disagreements must be based on open scholarly debate in existing channels. And I assume sociobiology has as much right to exist as any of the other specialties in anthropology. We have collectively a very substantial scholarly and institutional apparatus for doing such debates: journals, societies, universities, institutes.

4. Let's remember the Margaret Mead episode. Should a task force have been formed to judge Mead? Obviously not. It was a matter for existing disciplinary channels. And they worked.

5. Finally, many anthropologists seem oblivious to the very real threat to the continuation of academic freedom, especially in fields like anthropology, that has arisen since 9-11 and the Patriot Act, and the political enfranchisement of Christian fundamentalism. For those like myself outside of academia, the Tierney fracus is reminiscent of a clique of unionized workers castigating one of their stewards, oblivious to the fact that they occupy a rapidly shrinking social space, and too focused on internecine, personalized rancor to see they face downsizing soon.

Kendall House

I Support the Referendum

The issue is not our personal commitment to ethnical conduct in anthropological research, as I assume we are all so committed.

That Chagnon and Neel in the late 1960s may have acted in ways that in 2005 we judge improper -- even highly questionable -- is a matter of opinion that we should debate in light of a fair summary of the relevant evidence.

This goal is not served by a formal report that adjudicates while denying that that is in fact would is intended. The report concludes that Chagnon and Neel harmed the Yanomami, an assertion that is both highly prejudicial to the accused and extremely difficult to prove.

The issue goes beyond disciplinary ethics and political persuasion. The issue for me is whether we consider a presumption of guilt sufficient, or whether we presume a person innocent until all the relevant evidence is fairly and properly evaluated.

Absent the means to offer a fair and impartial judgement of the case, the proper role of the Task Force would have been to air the range of opinions, detail the accusations and the evidence put forward for and against such allegations, and then allow the readers to judge for themselves.

I say let [s]he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Eugene Hunn
University of Washington

What Happened to Relativism?

It is at our peril that we judge actions taken in 1968 by the standards of today. Doing so will engage us in a constant round of self-criticism that will leave us chasing our tails for decades and make our discipline wholly irrelvant to our society.

Anthropologists have a habit of back-biting - an NSF grant officer told me a number of years ago that anthropologists were unparalled in their vicious critiques of colleagues' grant proposals. Clearly this has got to stop. It is time to clean house and decide where we want the profession to go in the future instead of constantly looking back.

Elizabeth Hall

The Referendum will Stifle Debate

At root, the El Dorado Task Force calls for anthropologists to seriously consider the ethical implications of their research. We all know our research has potential social consequences. The report is a wake-up call that reminds us what we already know but rarely act upon. It reminds us that we cannot shy away from those consequences and we need to get serious about what to do when they occur. As the debates in this forum indicate, however, educated readers of the report continue to express quite different opinions as to what constitutes a violation of acceptable standards of conduct (the AAA Code of Conduct notwithstanding). Eventually, anthropologists, either through the auspices of the AAA or some other forum, will have to agree upon whether or not the “Ethical Code of Conduct” can actually be considered an enforceable set of standards for ethical research that goes beyond “opinion”. Rescinding the report would stifle this difference of opinion, which is crucial to much more important debates regarding ethical conduct in anthropology, and the role of the Association in defining what that is. Since when have anthropologists become so fearful of heated discussion? Without such hard-hitting discussion the Association will remain little more than a social club designed to facilitate careerist “networking” and once-yearly cocktail parties disguised as professional meetings. It needs to be much more than that. I will vote against this referendum, which will ultimately stifle an important and long-overdue debate.

Erik Harms

Vote Against the Referendum to Rescind

I urge AAA members to vote against the Referendum to Rescind the El Dorado Task Force Report. That Tierney didn't get all his facts straight, that the accused were not guilty of all the sins outlined, that the AAA should not adjudicate the ethics of members, etc., etc., may all be relevant, but the essence of the current referendum is political: Is the association going to be narrowly academic only, or is it going to engage the world for progressive reasons and change its historical legacy? We have involved ourselves in these ethical issues in the in the past--in resolutions against anthropologists involved in clandestine activities during the Vietname era, etc. In every case the membership at large supported progressive actions, and in the end, the non-progressive forces won--the AAA went back to its narrow business, duely sanctioned, re-writing its history as the gradual accumulation of wisdom.

Let's not let this happen this time. Vote against the referendum to rescind. Vote for an ethical, progressive association, not for some outdated notions of non-involvement, "science," with the result that we adopt the tragic notion that researchers can do what they like with other peoples.

It is obviously not black and white, but at stake is the future of the integrated discipline, or a future of separated specialties, such as the departmental separations at the University of Connecticut(formerly) and at Stanford (currently). While I am not against this latter arrangement, so long at we are one, let's be as progressive as we can. Vote against the Referendum to Rescind.

James Faris
University of Connecticut, Emeritus

Underlying Issues that Fuel this Debate - Do No Harm, or Do Some Good

I will vote against the referendum to rescind the El Dorado Task Force Report.

My reaction to the Tierney manuscript was to find and review for myself the documentation cited, especially Atomic Energy Commission funded science. I did not take Tierney's interpretation as fact, nor did I take the Task Force Report interpretation as fact. Rather, I took the time to critically review original source materials to form my own opinions.

I have now examined 20+ boxes of James V. Neel files at the National Academy of Science Archives. I reviewed letters, memos, and research protocols by Neel archived at the University of Texas. I submitted FOIA requests for documents addressing Neel's work in the Amazon. I reviewed 450+ declassified documents authored by or citing Neel in the Human Radiation Experimentation Archives.

I have found some errors in interpretation and fact in Tierney's accounts. And I have found much more that is corroborated.

I certainly found nothing to contradict the facts that Atomic Energy Commission research in the Amazon was human population research funded and used to interpret findings from the human radiation experiments conducted elsewhere; and, that biological samples were taken, and in some cases radioisotopes administered, without meaningful informed consent. There is overwhelming evidence that similar studies elsewhere (Arctic, Marshall Islands, United States) produced considerable harm.

Commentary on this referendum has focused on fairness or truthfulness of depicting Neel and Chagnon as irresponsible scientists whose research produced serious physical harm to their subjects continues to provoke heated debate. However, I sense that the underlying issue here is not the depiction, but the recommendations.

Task Force Recommendations targeted by this referendum include strengthening ethical guidelines and praxis to insure that anthropology not only "does no harm" -- but because research is conducted with free and prior informed consent and shaped with the needs, collaboration or participation of research subjects in mind-- might actually "do some good."

The core question is whether we as a discipline truly care about the social impact of doing anthropology. Are we morally and ethically obligated to insure that "we do no harm" and, furthermore, we act in socially responsible ways? Is the practice of anthropology compromised if we adopt such an ethical code? Can we produce credible scientific work if research is generated in collaboration or with the meaningful participation of the research subjects?

Barbara Rose Johnston
Center for Political Ecology

Support the Referendum: It is About Progress, Not Judgment

Many opponents of the referendum seem to be misrepresenting the action proposed by the referendum. The referendum DOES result in the membership rescinding official acceptance of the Report of the El Dorado Task Force and announcing this action.

The resolution DOES NOT make direct judgments against individual members of the task force though it does imply acceptance of the shortfalls of the report and its preparations as listed in the referendum. It DOES NOT require altering or censoring the report or its removal from the present web site.

Most important, it DOES NOT alter in any way the ‘message’ and corresponding program that all in the membership are concerned with. That is, it does not diminish in any way the Association’s resolve to work to improve the lives of people we work with, to improve our ethnical framework or to advance ethical methods of research and its dissemination. This program of the Association is independent of an inquiry into the allegations contained in Tierney’s book, almost all of which the report concluded were without merit in union with all other professional bodies that inquired into these allegations.

The referendum does not accuse any one of incompetence. It does imply that perhaps we were in a period of ‘group think’ and failed to see that perhaps there should have been another Task Force; one to inquire regarding the allegations, and another to identify strategies for achieving the ethical goals we want to promote as a professional association and as human beings. This is best achieved by joining together, not dividing.

Support the referendum - let’s move forward and not sideways.

Michael Fischer
University of Kent

The Importance of Due Process--Support the Referendum

I support the referendum to rescind the AAA’s acceptance of the report of the El Dorado Task Force. This referendum is not about the merit of the charges against Neel and Chagnon; it is about the lack of due process. The AAA by its own rules does not adjudicate claims for unethical behavior. By calling the Task force an inquiry, rather than a formal investigation, the AAA effectively bypassed its own prohibition. The Task force report did charge unethical conduct and the report was widely disseminated. How would you feel if a journalist accused you of unethical conduct and your professional association conducted an inquiry without due process?

Carol R. Ember
Human Relations Area Files

Against the Referendum

The referendum is logically contradictory. If we accept that the AAA cannot adjudicate claims of unethical behavior, then the members cannot support “Whereas” statements 3-6. These statements repudiate the findings of the Task Force, something that statement 1 says the Association has no power to do. Deciding to rescind acceptance of the report due to purported flaws in its methods would be an act of adjudication. This referendum would violate the due process it claims to uphold.

By accepting the results of the El Dorado inquiry, the Board did not say that it agreed with every finding. The Preface to the Report is written in non-accusatory language, emphasizing that “the greatest value of this Report is not to find fault with or to defend the past actions of specific anthropologists, but to provide opportunities for all anthropologists to consider the ethics of several dimensions of the anthropological enterprise.” The Task Force may have judged Tierney’s claims of unethical behavior, but the Association made it clear that it would not adjudicate on the basis of their recommendations.

If one disagrees with the findings of the report, there are more appropriate ways to make this point then a vote to publicly disavow the Association’s internal Task Force. Support of this referendum would amount to an adjudication, asserting that the report is fatally flawed. The passage of this referendum would suggest that there is no value in the Task Force’s report, a suggestion that I wholeheartedly reject. It would also suggest that the leadership of the AAA was incompetent. I will vote to reject this referendum, and I urge other members to do so.

Dan Reichman

The AA Task Force was Fatally Flawed by Conflicts of Interest

I support the Gregor/Gross referendum to rescind the AAA Task Force report on the El Dorado investigation.

The AAA leadership and Task Force members made a (mostly) honest effort to produce a fair, authoritative report, and parts of the report are excellent, but the report as a whole is fatally flawed by (among other things) severe conflicts of interest on the Task Force. Ray Hames was a Ph.D. student, close colleague, research collaborator, and friend of Napoleon Chagnon. What was he doing on the Task Force? Although he resigned from the Task Force before it published its report, he clearly had a strong influence on an early draft of the report that was posted on the internet, and certainly on the final report as well. Fernando Coronil was a student of Terence Turner (Turner widely advertised Tierney's book, and his endorsement appears on the book jacket). What was he doing on the Task Force?

Conducting a fair investigation into charges of genocide and ethical misconduct requires significant institutional 'infrastructure' and expertise that the AAA does not possess. Consequently, its efforts to investigate the allegations were marked by almost comical missteps at every stage: the formation of a 'Task Force' with a strong appearance of bias; the appointment of Ray Hames months later to counterbalance this bias (by adding yet more bias); a dramatic announcement of an interview schedule that included Chagnon -- despite the fact that Chagnon had not been contacted by the Task Force, and had no intention of submitting to an interview by them regarding accusations of criminal conduct, including murder; interviewing a few Yanomamo living near a Salesian Mission (the Salesians and Chagnon have a well-publicized dispute) but failing to interview any of the many Yanomamo who publicly supported Chagnon; and so forth…

Despite some good work, the report is not a fair, authoritative investigation into the allegations of Darkness in El Dorado. The AAA is institutionally incapable of conducting such an investigation, and it should have refrained from the attempt. If the AAA membership does not rescind the report, it will be endorsing a process that was, in too many respects, a farce.

Edward Hagen
Institute for Theoretical Biology, Berlin

In Favor of the Referendum

I support the referendum because I feel that puritanical witch hunts do far more damage than they prevent. The facts in the El Dorado case were so clearly misrepresented that the Association should not have ventured into the controversy. The Association has clearly stated that it will not adjudicate claims of unethical behavior. The pretense that the Task Force was simply trying to bring out the facts rings hollow. Sanctioning such a task force ultimately led to its acting as a judge and jury, and the Association's reputation as a professional society has been damaged. The Association should try to reinstate its good name by repudiating the report. One cannot escape from the moral responsibility of unleashing a witch hunt by simply saying that it is trying to create a forum for everyone to say their piece. If the emotions are strong a witch hunt will ensue no matter what the facts may be. Its a political animal.

The Task Force tendency to demonize objective research and contrast it with "humanistic" attitudes reveals an underlying puritanical political ideology that can do much harm. How can you protect or benefit other people without first getting -- yes an objective -- picture about what they feel and how their lives are constructed? How can someone help a people without first understanding from what they truly suffer? Chagnon and Neel were simply doing their jobs as investigators.

Having been given the green light for witch hunting the Task Force launched into an effort to promote a reflexive ideology in which the "contradictions" of anthropology were to be exposed. They painted the whole profession as mired in collective guilt and thus set the stage for the public purging of the group. What's next? public confessions and perhaps an ostracism or two. We are all human beings and we suffer from this tendency toward condemning our fellow humans. As anthropologists, we should understand this. That a profession that is supposed to understand human nature should sink so low is saddening. Let us get out of the business of puritanical purges and witch hunts as fast as possible.

James Dow
Oakland University

Task Force Brings Shame to Anthropology

I whole-heartedly support the referendum to rescind acceptance of the El Dorado Task Force Report for two principle reasons. 1. It was clear from the start that the Task Force participants were known opponents of James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon. 2. The Task Force violated the Association's policy prohibiting judgments concerning ethics cases. The obvious bias of the Task Force's "inquiry", extensively documented by Gregor and Gross, brings shame to our Association and our discipline.

Monique Borgerhoff Mulder
University of California, Davis

In Support of the Referendum

I encourage the members of the American Anthropological Association to vote in favor of the referendum to rescind the Executive Board's acceptance of the report of the El Dorado Task Force. The fact that the Task Force report violates the AAA's own prohibition against the adjudication of claims of unethical behavior is reason enough to support this referendum. The referendum itself, along with many of the comments posted here and on the AAA web site, provide many other persuasive arguments.

Lee Cronk
Rutgers University

Support the Referendum

I support the referendum to rescind the Association's acceptance of the Report of the El Dorado Task Force. The shoddiness and bias of the Task Force's "inquiry", extensively documented by Gregor and Gross, provide justification enough for the membership of the AAA to repudiate the Task Force's Report. Failure to do so can only bring further diccredit to our Association and our discipline.

Clayton Robarchek
Wichita State University

Support for the Referendum

I support the referendum. It redresses the Association's actions in a critical case.

Joel Savishinsky
Ithaca College

The Report is Embarrassing

I support the Referendum because the El Dorado Task Force Report violates standards of fairness.

Sarah Hrdy vUniversity of California- Davis

Why I (a Latino Anthropologist) Support the Referendum

As a cultural anthropologist with over a decade of research in Amazonia, I have had the great privilege and honor of working with various indigenous societies including the Yanomamo.

In the early 1990’s, I had the opportunity of accompanying Napoleon Chagnon on a medical/anthropological expedition to Yanomamo for which he was the leader. Our group’s primary responsibility was to conduct an immunization campaign in the Yanomamo villages that were in the pathway of oncoming epidemic diseases introduced by gold miners who were operating illegally in the region. Our expedition enjoyed the full cooperation of a Venezuelan Medical Team called Parima-Culebra. My job was to always be one step ahead of the main medical team conducting censuses of villages that were earmarked for immunization. Members of our team must have visited at least 10 different villages (both highland and lowland) during the campaign and we were warmly received by the Yanomamo in each and every one of these communities because they knew that Chagnon was there to render badly needed medical assistance.

I personally witnessed the great care and concern the Chagnon demonstrated towards Yanomamo and I also witnessed first hand the great affection that many Yanomamo individuals openly displayed towards him. What’s more, I know for a fact that Chagnon has paid for medicines for the Yanomamo out of his own pocket on more than one occasion!

I am witness to the fact that countless Yanomamo owe their very lives to Chagnon’s indefatigable dedication and concern for indigenous peoples. This is why I (a Latino anthropologist) am very grateful to Chagnon for all that he has done to help the Yanomamo over the years and I wholeheartedly support the referendum.

Richard Chacon
Winthrop University

For the Sake of the Yanomami, Please Reject this Referendum

I strongly oppose the Referendum to Rescind the AAA's Acceptance of the Report of the El Dorado Task Force. It lacks merit and makes no contribution to the discussion or to the association. This referendum is just another covert attempt to vindicate Napoleon Chagnon by diverting attention away from a decades-long pattern of alleged dubious fieldwork practices that have finally been held up for public scrutiny.

Anthropologists and students who are truly interested in learning from this debate will find a cogent and comprehensive summary of the issues with extensive supporting argumentation from both sides in R. Borofsky’s timely publication, Yanomami: The Fierce Controversy And What We Can Learn From It. This text presents the case and lets the reader decide. The current referendum, however, adds nothing to the debate. In an attempt to quell the impact of the controversy, Gregor, et al. have, in fact, re-ignited the discussion by attacking the entire American Anthropological Association as represented by its Task Force.

I am aware, as a fieldworker among the Yanomami, that ethical questions concerning the professional conduct of Napoleon Chagnon have been common knowledge for years. Specific concerns of the Brazilian Anthropological Association were put into print by then-president Manuela Carneiro da Cunha in a 1988 letter to the AAA’s Committee on Ethics, which failed to respond adequately. Once again we, American anthropologists, are missing the point. Everyone’s priority in this debate should be the Yanomami themselves – their health, their land rights, their physical and cultural survival. They continue to struggle in Venezuela and Brazil against overwhelming odds.

In all the years that they have been studied, what benefits have they received for their willing (and unwilling) collaboration with the researchers, journalists, and photographers? For the Yanomami, like other remote peoples, this is a “life and death matter.” Conducting fieldwork among such peoples is a privilege, not a right.

The association should be committing its resources and efforts toward clarifying and promoting ethical fieldwork practice within the discipline to prevent the recurrence of controversies such as this one. Therefore, I encourage the AAA membership to resoundingly defeat this pointless referendum and to put the focus back where it should be – on the Yanomami and what is being done to ensure their survival.

Gale Gomez
Rhode Island College

Move Forward, Not Backward

I'm deeply disturbed by the idea of formally rescinding the Report and even more by the apparent support this move has. Despite being a strong supporter of anthropological ethics -- not merely as a passive and ineffective "code" merely for "educational" purposes but also as a code that must correspond to some form of action -- I in fact agree with some of Gregor and Gross's criticism in their AA article (at least about conflicts of interest and the "investigation-like" nature of the "inquiry"; their claim about this all being somehow an effect of "postmodernism" is truly absurd given who some of their main targets are in the article). Notably their views were made public by the very same professional association that they now seek a policy of formal censorship from.

It is absurd to think that a formal repudiation of the Report will serve as a "solution". What is needed is further discussion and better representation within the AAA from competing/opposing points of view to define what the future of the association's professional ethics should be.

Shane Greene
Florida International University

Beware of Those Who Know What's Right

There seems more heat than light concerning much of the discussion on the proposed referendum. I support it largely because I agree with its objectives, a re-examination of a very serious situation in which the American Anthropological Association may have unjustly castigated members of the profession..

Concerns have been expressed about politicization, while others have spoken out that political acts of conscience are to be commended. I would caution that such acts, even if well intended, undermine our credibility as a professional organization and open the possibility to other power holders with whom one might not agree.

There have been others who still assert that that the referendum should not be supported because the field study ". . . included some truly shameful methods" [referred to in "I am Perplexed . . ." below]. If so, would concur, but I thought this was in question, and precisely the what the referendum will allow to be readdressed.

The degree to which our differences seem to be becoming increasingly entrenched is bemusing. We are all committed to good ethics in our discipline, but the nature of that commitment seems to differ in interesting ways.

It also seems apparent to these somewhat aged eyes, that the issue involves not simply a difference about method, but a contest between world views. Underlying much of the rhetoric, and even more of the heat, is a schism between those whose perspective is grounded in scientifically oriented empiricism, and those committed to a more post-modernist viewpoint. Thus it seems that Chagnon now has a band of "supporters." I had not known that he was so widely liked and highly regarded.

Finally, there seem to be good substantive questions that suggest the initial actions of the Task Force and its subsequent report may not have been congruent with what we all believe to be important -- ethics. These questions may be found to be well grounded or groundless, but I believe they, at the least, deserve a review. Perhaps our discourse can actually be collegial and civil. In any event, I don't see how further discourse on this subject can harm us, but I do see how it might lead both to a better understanding of our differences and the hope of reconciliation. I favor the referendum and the pursuit of open discussion.

Douglas Raybeck
Hamilton College

A Call for the Ethics of Fairness

I urge fellow members of the AAA to vote in favor of the referendum.You are not being asked to vote on issues of guilt or innocence. You are being asked to endorse fairness and the appropriate procedures for inquiry which have yet to be followed. The AAA is to be congratulated that it has allowed Gregor to fully publish the many, many procedural failings of the inquiry beginning with a disregard for the AAA formal guidelines. Let's wipe the slate clean and begin again - the right and ethical way.

Jane Lancaster
University of New Mexico

Remove This Blot on the Integrity of the AAA

I support the referendum to rescind the AAA's acceptance of the report of the El Dorado Task Force. The AAA allowed itself to be caught up in an enthusiasm of condemnation--not to say a political witch hunt--that seemed to justify ignoring its own rules. Some have argued that this has advanced anthropological ethics, but I wonder how unethical behavior can advance ethics. In ignoring our own rules, we undermined our integrity as a professional organization. I leave aside the shoddiness of the report itself, which raises questions about our integrity as a research discipline. Let us take this opportunity to remove this embarrassing blot on the association

Philip Carl Salzman
McGill University

Vote No on the Referendum

I see no compelling reason raised by referendum supporters to try to overturn decisions made by the President and the Executive Board (EB). After all, if these offices are to be something more than just titular posts -- and I for one think they should be -- then the President and the EB should minimally have the authority to make decisions of the kinds they have made in the Task Force case. It seems to me that if the referendum supporters are unhappy with the leadership of the AAA, then they should run their own slate of candidates in the next election. If they can muster the votes to win, then so be it. But, meanwhile, efforts like the referendum amount to back-door political manipulation that benefits no one in the association.

I also wanted to say that I find concerns about the "politicization" of the AAA curious. Anthropology has been a public and politicized discipline ever since Boas took on Victorian positivism and this should be understood as one of our proudest legacies. It certainly has not detracted from the quality of our work as social scientists. The President and EB should be lauded rather than castigated for their willingness to adopt principled, yet bold and potentially divisive, positions at a moment when most academics shun public and political engagement.

Finally, what this referendum really signals for me is that the AAA, as a professional organization, will not be able to paper over methodological differences within its membership much longer. Beyond even ethics issues, the stakes of this debate are really the future of the 4-field model of anthropology, and it would make sense if we addressed those stakes directly.

Dominic Boyer
Cornell University

Supporting Joe Watkins' Comment

In respect to the AAA's El Dorado Task Force Report, Joe Watkins' comment -- "The Proposed Referendum Will Accomplish Nothing" [see below] -- seems wise to me.

James Peacock
North Carolina

I am Perplexed Why "Rescinding" Is Proposed as a Remedy

Whatever the shortcomings of the report of the task force, I am perplexed as to why "rescinding" the Report is proposed as a remedy. As I understood it, the Report was not an "ethics adjudication" but an attempt at a comprehensive review of a questionable field study that included truly shameful methods.

It is true that all investigations into the Chagnon/Neel study have demonstrated that their methods were not quite malevolent. But even if we all concur that the AAA cannot "adjudicate ethics" and that honorable ethnographers may disagree on appropriate field methods, the importance of the Report (as I understood it) was in demonstrating that "not quite malevolent" is too low a standard for our discipline. I won't vote to rescind that conclusion.

Kathleen Lowrey
Randolph-Macon Women's College

In Support of the Referendum

I support the referendum. The question is not if “the anthropological concern with ethics is more than window-dressing -- something that makes us feel good but never really affects how we and others act,” as written in the invitation to participate in this discussion. It is if an improperly mandated and executed inquiry should be allowed to stand as representative of the AAA’s tenets and practices. To suggest as many have that, even if flawed, the El Dorado Task Force Report serves to bring important ethical issues to the fore is to assert that ends justify their means. They do not. AAA members do need to have discussions about the role the organization should play in adjudicating alleged ethical violations by its members. But we also need to reconsider our implicit support of the demonstrably false characterizations of specific anthropologists’ behavior as legitimized in this particular report. To conflate these two issues is to address neither.

Hector Qirko
University of Tennessee

Peer Review and Ethics

I am curious as to whether the findings of the Task Force should have been submitted for peer review, like most of the other work that we do as anthropologists.

Eric C. Jones

The El Dorado Report

Currently before the membership is a referendum that calls upon the Association to rescind the Executive Board’s acceptance and promulgation of the El Dorado Task Force Report. We support this referendum and urge colleagues to vote for it. The Report should be rescinded for several reasons--(1) because it had no legal mandate (the association prohibits ethics adjudications), (2) because the Task Force admits that it did not collect “evidence,” (3) because the Yanomami witnesses were children at the time of the events they described, and (4) because the Task Force was assembled without respect to glaring conflicts of interest. The referendum details other shortcomings of the Report, many of which are serious enough to disqualify the effort. What we find especially disconcerting is that the AAA never confronted the impropriety of the allegations that initiated the investigation or the accusatory culture that stimulated it. Instead, the AAA amplified and disseminated the claims within the Report, given them the “stamp of approval” of the entire AAA, and the AAA lent credence to the view that anthropologists and medical researchers are responsible for the dire situation of the Yanomami. A serious wrong has been done to the AAA, the profession and ultimately the Yanomami, whose interests have been confused with our organization’s internal politics.

Thanks to the referendum, we have a chance to change course, and we ask colleagues to do so.

Joyce Marcus & Kent Flannery
Univ of Michigan

I Support the Referendum

I support the referendum for the reasons outlined by D'Andrade and Irons [see their comments below], and based upon the AA paper by Gregor and Gross. I am embarrased by the increasing politicalization of the AAA, and the El Dorado Task Force Report is perhaps the most extreme example of this.

Michael Smith

I Agree with D'Andrade's and Irons' Comments

I totally agree with what D'Andrade has said and with what Irons has said [see their comments below]. I thus strongly support the referendum. Getting these things right does matter.

David Kronenfeld
University of California/Riverside

The Referendum is Based on a Misunderstanding

Gregor, Gross and supporters of their referendum calling for repudiation of the acceptance of the Task Force report by the President and Executive Board of the AAA base their case primarily on the claim that the Task Force's investigation and findings "violated the Association's prohibition on ethics investigations". This claim is based on a misunderstanding of the rights and powers of the President and the Executive Board.

The prohibition on investigating ethics violations was not always the policy of the AAA. The original ethics committee, of which I was a member, played a key role in investigating and denouncing the clandestine involvement of anthropologists in counterinsurgency research in SE Asia. In this it was supported by a large majority of the membership. The Executive Board voted to end the Committee's power to investigate and make recommendations on individual cases of violations of the Code of Ethics in the 1990s, in an effort (misguided in my view) to preserve the "unity" of the Association.

What has now happened, as a result of the Task Force's investigation of the allegations of unethical conduct by researchers working among the Yanomami, notably Napoleon Chagnon and James Neel, is that the President and Executive Board have exercised their legitimate powers to change, once again, the Association's policy.

By charging the Task Force to review the evidence that actions by these researchers had violated the Association's Code of Ethics, and officially accepting its report that they had done so in a number of ways, the President and EB effectively reversed the policy against investigating ethics violations they had instituted in the '90s. In so doing, they exercised their rights and responsibilities as set out by the by-laws of the AAA. There thereby ceased to be an AAA "policy prohibiting ethics investigations".

The precedent created by the official acceptance of the Task Force's de facto investigation and Report is that the duly elected leadership of the Association may appoint investigative bodies to ascertain (or "adjudicate", another word for the same thing) if specific actions and/or statements of researchers have violated the AAA Code of Ethics. Gregor and Gross have simply got it wrong: the President and EB, in appointing the Task Force and accepting its report, did not "violate" policy in an illegitimate way but change it in a legitimate way.

Terry Turner
Cornell University

Why We Should Vote “Yes” on the Referendum: Response to Critics

The critical comments posted thus far [see below for the comments referred to] do not address the central issues of the referendum: that the El Dorado Report violated the Association’s rules prohibiting ethics adjudications, that its targets were unrepresented, that its witnesses were biased, that the task force was assembled without regard to conflicts of interest, and that its members published prejudicial statements in the midst of their deliberations. These are important issues, because the Report found Chagnon guilty of violating the Code of Ethics, charged both Chagnon and Neel with a range of professional misdemeanors and disseminated personalized, improbable and inadequately examined allegations of gross misconduct.

Hill and others focus on Chagnon’s alleged culpability. But the referendum takes no stand at all on the question of guilt or innocence. Their claim that the referendum harms relations with native Americans and anthropologists in Latin America is also off the mark. No one – neither indigenous peoples nor anthropologists --truly benefits from an investigation that does not meet high standards of integrity. Nor is there any profit in an ad hominem investigation that distracts attention from the threats to the survival of the Yanomami, including grave health risks, which are barely examined in the 300-page report.

Janet Chernela claims that Task Force members did not prejudge the charges. In fact, as we document in a recent AA Article (“Guilt by Association,” December 2004), she placed prejudicial remarks on the internet months before the Report was complete. She also misunderstands our point regarding Yanomami witnesses. The task force neglected to consider the evidence from and interview villagers, some of them elected representatives of their communities, who publicly expressed support for Neel and Chagnon’s work.

The Report is not a document of which the AAA can be proud, in that it lacks the integrity essential for credible fact-finding and moral reflection. Task Force member Joe Watkins’ acknowledgment that “perhaps the process was flawed” (a remark echoed in other critical submissions) is insufficient. Any ad hominem investigation by the Association should be authorized under its bylaws and carried out with due process and fairness -- or not at all.

Thomas Gregor

What is Really at Stake?

I agree with Jonathan Hill’s remark regarding the need for everyone to be familiar with the issues. Perhaps the standards of the inquiry were not properly delineated before the process began, or if they were, maybe they were inadequate. Before the inquiry began, was the opportune time to invite anthropologists to a forum so they could voice their opinions with regards to how the inquiry should be conducted, and who would participate in the process. Once set up, however, the task force had an assignment: to assess whether Neel and Chagnon followed proper ethical standards and whether the Yanomami were harmed as a consequence of this particular research. This, the Task Force did. But here I must disagree with Hill’s assessment that the report results only in public knowledge and discussion. Instead, I think it takes the form of psychological regulation for the rest of us practitioners of anthropology. Whether the Task Force’s findings are “right or wrong” is a different affair, and a matter of opinion on which, inevitably, there will be disagreement.

To me, the general point is that if as a discipline we do support the referendum we are, by this act, implying their is nothing striving to ensure that peoples with whom we work come to no harm by our hand.

I would, perhaps, support an action to have a committee of new members, revisit certain key issues contained in the report and perhaps modify those; but certainly not discard the whole thing. We all know how painful and imperfect ethical queries of any kind can be. But we can also envision the form the discipline would assume if it were stripped of all collective watchfulness, particularly when it comes to a field where, as someone commented on this site, there is a great power differential between the researcher and her or his subjects. The Task Force report is the product of this vigilance in action.

Furthermore, Indigenous populations must see that there exists a professional community that frowns upon ethicalessness. All of us who have ever been in contact with Native peoples must be aware of our reputation as relentless, self-centered westerners who will do anything to get published. They probably know the unconstructive impression these societies hold of anthropologists; how detrimental this perception is to our practice cannot easily escape anyone.

For these reasons, I reject the referendum and I emphatically vote “NO”.

M. Clara Núñez-Regueiro
Graduate Student; Saint Louis University

The Dangers of Argument by Assertion

I am voting against Gross and Gregor’s referendum to rescind the AAA’s 2002 Task Force Report. The weaknesses of the Report and the whole series of events and processes that went into its making have been analyzed in detail in Robert Borofsky’s new book, Yanomami: The Fierce Controversy and What We Can Learn From It (2005). I urge all AAA members to familiarize themselves with this highly useful book as well as the accompanying web sites that go with it before voting on the referendum. With the exception of Raymond Hames, who chose to remove himself from the Task Force in early 2002, the AAA Task Force Report does not provide the perspectives of Yanomami specialists themselves on the full range of ethical issues that had been raised in Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado and in various “Early Rumblings” (Borofsky 2005: 35-38) that so clearly foreshadowed the current controversy. Borofsky’s Round Table discussion among six prominent specialists in Yanomami ethnography, South American ethnology, and human rights is now available in print as Part II of the 2005 book. Even the most casual reading of these materials leaves no room for doubt that there are many serious ethical issues at stake in the Yanomami controversy and that these problems deserve public discussion among AAA members, students of anthropology, and interested sectors of the general public.

The AAA acted appropriately in appointing a Task Force to gather and evaluate evidence about Chagnon’s self-proclaimed actions of deceiving Yanomami people in order to extract information for his research, his public statements aimed at discrediting a key indigenous leader at a time of great crisis for the Yanomami, and his alliances with FUNDAFACI rather than a legitimate Venezuelan research institute. The Task Force’s activities were an inquiry rather than an investigation, so the Report’s findings can only result in public knowledge and discussion about ethical issues in anthropology rather than stronger sanctions. Gross and Gregor’s Referendum is an attack on the integrity of the AAA Task Force and, ironically, a clear example of the ‘culture of accusation’ which they accuse the Task Force of having condoned. Voting in favor of the Referendum would be a major setback in relations between anthropological communities in the US, Venezuela, and Brazil, which have been strained for many years through the AAA’s refusal to give serious attention to early warnings coming from Venezuela and Brazil.

Jonathan Hill
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

False Choices No Substitute for Debating the Issues

I support the referendum, for the reasons succinctly stated by Roy d'Andrade in his posting to this Forum [see below]. I have read the postings to date, and am dismayed that the opponents of the referendum fail to adequately confront the issues raised in the referendum. Only Chernela refers in any detail to the substance of the referendum, but in fact only addresses 2 of the 10 "whereas" clauses of the referendum (and in ways that I find inadequate). Watkins is against the referendum even if the process that produced the task force report was "perhaps" flawed, but his reasons are based on false choices (the AAA could either do nothing or do what it did, we could either have the present report or forego discussion of the issue).

Some opponents of the referendum seem to believe that the choice faced by AAA members is between adhering to ethical standards or abandoning them. Indeed, the email from Public Anthropology inviting participation in this forum states "the Referendum to Rescind the AAA's Acceptance of the El Dorado Task Force Report, has generated much debate. It should. Reduced to its core, it asks: Is the anthropological concern with ethics more than window-dressing -- something that makes us feel good but never really affects how we and others' act." I strongly object to this characterization of the referendum, and in calling for support of the referendum I do not in any way act to undermine the importance of ethical standards. But, as laid out in the referendum and detailed in the article by Gregor & Gross, the AAA must act in an ethical manner itself, which includes following its rules and observing due process. The task force report fails on both counts.

Eric Alden Smith
U of Washington

Do Not Support the Referendum

Chagnon's supporters are doing what they always do; namely, they cloud the issue with false data and seek to divert opponents from the real issue. They allege things that are not in the report. They try to raise "science" to a value-free level that would allow almost anything to be justified in its name. They brand any opposition as "non-scientific" or "anti-scientific," relegating opponents to the slag heap of "humanists" or worse.

The AAA must stand up for ethical fieldwork principles and the safety and rights of those whom we seek to understand. Human beings have innate rights and our profession has on the whole sought to advance those rights. Any failure adds to the general image of not caring for marginalized peoples that we fought so hard to overturn, against internal opposition, in the sixties.

I oppose the referendum and will vote against it.

Frank Salamone
Iona College

A Matter of Due Process

From the beginning of this controversy, I have asked how I would feel if I were in Napoleon Chagnon's position? I know for sure that I would be deeply hurt by the prejudgments of my colleagues. I have seen my colleagues make arguments that are dangerous, ignorant, and just plain wrong. I have seen friends treat their colleagues in ways they would never want to be treated themselves, yet they continue to maintain intact their sense of self as good and honorable people. I also have seen colleagues academically and professionally injured for having the audacity to tell unpopular truths. Now, I am compelled to ask if I trust that the process producing the AAA Report of the El Dorado Task Force (2002) really represents reasonable "due process"? The simple answer is that I do not.

Patrick Tierney, perhaps to get publicity, accused Napoleon Chagnon and James Neel of ethnocide and murder. These charges have proven to be malicious and false. I have read "Guilt by Association," the article that Thomas Gregor and Dan Gross published in the December 2004 American Anthropologist, in which they document clearly a failure of due process. I am troubled that the AAA report and the process that produced it may be the product of a McCarthyist-style witch hunt cloaked in the guise of an "inquiry." I believe the membership of AAA must take responsibility for the report and the process that produced it. Failure to do so will leave a black mark over anthropology and AAA of the kind that was inflicted years ago on Franz Boas. For these reasons, I believe it is now appropriate for us to shine light on the report and to judge it especially the process that produced it. Our individual and collective integrities are at stake.

I believe that we owe our colleagues Napoleon Chagnon, Jaques Lizot, and James Neel full consideration concerning the question of due process. I approve of the AAA taking stands on the questions of ethics that have been raised by this controversy. But, I also think we must follow our own in-place rules when we do so, and I remain skeptical of whether this has been done in this case. I am also highly skeptical about the investigation that produced the Task Force Report. I believe the Referendum before us should be passed by the membership of the American Anthropological Association.

Jeffrey David Ehrenreich
University of New Orleans

We Need More Open Discussion Before We Have A Vote

This resolution asks us to censure the American Anthropology Association's investigation of Tierney's book Darkeness in El Dorado and to rescind the AAA's acceptance of the Report of the El Dorado Task Force. My question is the following: On the basis of the limited information this resolution offers us, can we responsibly support it?

In my view, we must discuss the allegations of misconduct presented in this resolution, not vote on it; without a more open discussion of its allegations, the only responsible vote would be to reject it. A responsible evaluation of these allegations should include a discussion of the views of the Executive Board that created the El Dorado Task Force and approved its Report.

It is ironic that a resolution that demands procedural correctness and intellectual integrity does not establish responsible procedures and standards for itself. Instead of promoting discussion, it seeks closure through censure; rather than moving beyond the divisions that undermined our debates two years ago, it reaffirms them. As anyone who reads the Report can see, as a member of the EL Dorado Task Force, I had objections of form and content to aspects of the Task Force's own work, which were discussed within its group. Yet I am ready to defend the Report approved by the executive Board against attempts to reject it without discussion.

I think it would be shameful if the Association endorsed this ill-conceived resolution.

Fernando Coronil (member of the El Dorado Task Force)
University of Michigan

The Proposed Referendum Will Accomplish Nothing

I have been contacted concerning my thoughts on the proposed Gregor and Gross Referendum to rescind the Executive Board's acceptance of the Darkness in El Dorado Report, an action that, in my opinion, would be fruitless and inane.

Anthropology must confront questions about its methods, its dealings with people, and the responsibility it is counseled to uphold - to the people and species it studies. Gregor and Gross seem puzzled about how we could "simultaneously be objective and concerned about the people we study?" (2004: 696). How can we not be concerned about anything BUT the people we study? Objective? Does anyone realistically believe we anthropologists are objective? Twenty-five years ago Bruce Trigger noted that "problems social scientists choose to research and the conclusions that they reach are influenced in various ways ... (among them)... the attitudes and opinions that are prevalent in the societies in which they live" (1980: 662). Are ethnologists any different?

Perhaps the process was flawed, as Gregor and Gross allege, but had the Association chosen to ignore or whitewash the situation, it would not have gone away. Failure to act would have implied a cover up to non-anthropologists throughout the world. Anthropology would have been seen to be retrenching itself against outsiders.

Has the Report served the American Anthropological Association? In my opinion, it has, if for no other reason than it has led to discussions such as this one. It brought forth discussion on ethics, the problems inherent in doing fieldwork, and the Briefing Papers. The Referendum cannot undo all that, nor can it "undo" anything. Don't like the Code of Ethics? Let's rescind it and we won't need to question anyone's actions, intents, or the products of their research. Don't like the limitations on presentations at AAA meetings - let's rescind them! Don't like my opinion - rescind it!

What will the proposed referendum do? Nothing at all. The Report - as widely disseminated and poorly read as it is - will still exist. If anything, it will make people read it more widely and think less about the ethical issues involved and more about the questions related to the formation and composition of the Task Force. Do I stand by everything in the Report? No, I do not, but I do stand by the Report itself. The AAA must continue to question the issues and its decisions cannot be threatened with rescindment if some do not agree.


Gregor, T.A. and D.R. Gross. 2004. Guilty by Association: The Culture of Accusation and the American Anthropological Association's Investigation of Darkness in El Dorado. American Anthropologist 106(4):687-698.

Trigger B. 1980. Archaeology and the Image of the American Indian. American Antiquity 45: 662-76

Joe Watkins (Member of the El Dorado Task Force)
University of New Mexico

Four Reasons Why I Support the Referendum

I support the referendum to rescind acceptance of the El Dorado Task Force Report:

1. because the Task Force falsely accused Neel and Chagnon of harming the Yanomami.

2. because the Task Force violated the Association's policy prohibiting judgments concerning ethics cases.

3. because many of the Task Force participants were known opponents of Neel and Chagnon's.

4. because the Task Force did not use fair procedures of collecting and analyzing information.

The above findings are documented in detail in Gregor and Gross's paper, " Guilt by Association," in the December 04 American Anthropologist

Roy D'Andrade
University of Connecticut

Four Fundamental Errors Underlying the Referendum

A proposition based in a series of "whereas" statements is only as persuasive as the "whereas" statements are "true" or convincing. In this case, they are, in my opinion, neither. That which Gregor and Gross (GandG) would have the membership rescind is not the Task Force Report, but instead, a (mis-)representation of it, with performatively scholarly footnotes that refer the reader to the authors' own prior text in which the misrepresentation was first constructed.

There are at least four fundamental errors in the propositions underlying the referendum: 1) an assumption of prior positioning by Task Force (TF) members; 2) neglect of interview data in the Report that contradict the authors' allegations; 3) a misrepresentation of "elected officials" and the knowledge base from which their statements derived; and 4) withdrawal of attention from Yanomami needs.

In arguing that TF members had preformed positions GandG draw on texts by TF members. In doing so, however, they reverse chronological sequences, presenting as earlier some (mine included) that refer to 2002 reports by the TF and to interviews with expedition members. Although the latter interviews weighed heavily in TF's findings, they are overlooked by GandG who allege that "biased" Yanomami interviews alone were considered. They would censor major Yanomami spokespersons in favor of a public official who they know is not Yanomami, and whose letter opens with, "We have read the grave statements made by . Tierney," when the book did not exist in Spanish. In contradiction to GandG's contentions, the TF not only seriously considered the official's statements, it posted them on its website. In fact, the TF agreed with the elected official as it did with the scholarly associations cited in the Referendum. Despite a contrary portrayal by GandG, allegations considered by those organizations and by the Task Force -- principally Tierney's suggestion that researchers initiated a measles epidemic by distributing a live vaccine -- were not confirmed by the TF. Rather than "adjudicating," the TF made important suggestions with regard to notions of Informed Consent as an ongoing process, as recommended in the Association's own Ethics statement.

By keeping this academic warfare alive, rather than attending to Yanomami welfare, Gregor and Gross further divisions within the Association with little relevance to pressing realities. In the last year alone health services, critical to the Yanomami, were rescinded by Brazil. That act of rescinding carries major consequences. I suggest we turn to it.

Janet Chernela (Member of the El Dorado Task Force Report)
University of Maryland

Why I Support the Referendum

I support the referendum because I think the AAA should obey its own rules. The AAA Code of Ethics says the Association "does not adjudicate claims for unethical behavior." This is a good rule because the AAA does not have the resources for fair adjudication of such claims. It is very problematic for the Association to create an ethics code, publicize it widely, and then proceed to violate it. Of course, the AAA code of ethics needs to be applied with some flexibility. However, in the case of the El Dorado controversy, I see no good reason for making an exception.

As the recent AA article by Gregor and Gross points out the El Dorado Task Force "inquiry" violated standards of due process, was compromised by bias, and did not entail a serious attempt to gather a full body of evidence and evaluate it carefully. Reading the report itself makes it clear that it is an adjudication of Chagnon and Neel's conduct, despite claims to the contrary, and it does state that they harmed the Yanomamo. Stating this and at the same time saying the report is non-evidentiary is a serious embarrassment. How can the association declare publicly that Neel and Chagnon harmed the Yanomamo without an attempt to carefully gather and weigh all the evidence available? The report also does very little to call attention to the fact that Neel and Chagnon saved many Yanomamo lives--probably thousands--during the 1968 measles epidemic. I urge AAA members to read carefully the El Dorado Report and the Gregor-and-Gross article and then vote on the referendum following their best judgment.

I would also like to emphasize that the referendum only deals with the AAA's response to the El Dorado controversy. It says nothing about the guilt or innocence of Chagnon or Neel. It, in no way, closes debate on most of the issues raised by this controversy. It merely would resolve that the AAA should have followed its own rules. It does not say that debate in other forms should not have been carried out and facilitated by the AAA and does not preclude such debate in the future within the bounds of the Code of Ethics. I sincerely hope the debate will continue.

William Irons
Northwestern University